Australia should team up with Japan in Southeast Asia to keep Chinese military as far away from Australian shores as possible, a leading defence think tank has argued.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute has called for a total rethink of Australia’s forward defence posture, arguing that defence planners should deploy Australian assets to bases in Japan, Guam and Papua New Guinea.
The report suggests traditional emphasis on controlling the air-sea gap to our north is outdated and leaves us vulnerable to a Chinese military presence expanding from military bases in the South China Sea to the South Pacific between Australia and the US.
“Far from being a strategic backwater, Australia is very much now a state in the frontline, geographically, strategically and politically,” the report’s author Dr Malcolm Davis said. “A mindset of assuming we can defend the air-sea gap is becoming less and less credible.’’
He warns China’s weaponry is growing in sophistication, with long-range bombers and the emergence of technologies like hypersonic missiles showing how Beijing is extending its own strategic reach.
“A key challenge confronting Australian strategic planners that should directly inform future defence policy is the rise of an assertive Chinese state that’s directly challenging US strategic primacy in Asia,
“President Xi Jinping is determined to establish the Chinese state’s dominance across the Indo-Pacific, in part through displacing the established US-led rules-based order.”
He also notes China’s militarisation of the South China Sea as evidence that the Australian Defence Force should adopt a new defence posture.
“This seeks to ensure that the ADF can rapidly project power deep into the maritime Indo-Pacific region to deny a potential adversary the initiative from the outset and prevent them from bringing long-range, high-speed military effects to bear.’’
Joint US-Australian facilities at Pine Gap and North West Cape — in Alice Springs and Western Australia respectively — could come under direct threat in the case of a military conflict with China.
“A direct military attack against Australia would no longer necessarily occur after a warning period of 10 years,” the report says.
“With active flashpoints in Asia, including Taiwan, the Korean Peninsula, the South China Sea and the East China Sea… we can’t assume that such a war is a ‘low probability/high consequences’ contingency.”
It warns Chinese missile systems could strike at RAAF Tindal and RAAF Darwin, as well as bases at Scherger in Queensland and Learmonth and Curtin in Western Australia.
The report says building a formal “trilateral defence alliance” between Washington, Tokyo and Canberra would help Japan become a “sixth eye” in the Five Eyes group, which is made up of Australia, the US, the UK, New Zealand and Canada.